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UNIMAS researchers to preserve indigenous languages digitally

on 24 Mac 2011.

KUCHING: Researchers at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) hope to preserve the state’s indigenous languages through the use of information and communication technology (ICT).

Led by associate professor of information systems Alvin Yeo, the Sarawak Language Technology Research Group (SALT) is working on various research projects to digitise indigenous languages and develop tools such as spell checkers, online dictionaries and machine translation.

“We’re focusing on how to ensure that the indigenous languages of Sarawak will still exist. For a lot of these languages, the number of speakers is getting fewer.

“According to Sarawak Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP), there are 63 known languages in the state and 76% of these languages have fewer than 10,000 speakers,” he said.

According to Yeo, one reason for the declining number of speakers is migration from rural to urban areas, where people will mostly speak English or Bahasa Melayu.

“In addition, the younger generation is exposed to a lot of television and other media which are generally not in their local languages.

“Another factor is inter-marriages. For example if a Bidayuh marries an Iban, maybe one of the languages will be spoken but sometimes neither of the languages is spoken and English or Bahasa Melayu becomes the language spoken in the family instead,” he told reporters after giving a talk on SALT’s work at Sarawak Development Institute here yesterday.

As such, he said the research group aimed to use ICT to create resources which would be able to record and store information on indigenous languages, which could then be shared through the Internet and further developed into useful tools.

Yeo said various research projects were being undertaken by Master’s students at Unimas under SALT. These include developing machine translation for Iban into English and vice versa, a spell checker for Iban and Melanau and the Singai Dialect Online Project to compile a Bidayuh glossary and document the community’s traditional songs and stories.

“We are still in the early stages of these research projects, which we started one or two years ago. We hope that in about a year or two we’ll have some prototype which will be workable.

“For example, the machine translation tool is not perfect with an accuracy rate of about 60%, so we’re continually trying to improve,” Yeo said.

He said the researchers welcomed feedback and assistance from the indigenous communities and language experts to collect the necessary data and help ensure its accuracy.

SALT is currently collaborating with other local and foreign universities, the Tun Jugah Foundation, DBP, Majlis Adat Istiadat Sarawak, the State Library and various community associations.

 

Extracted from The Star

Arkib Berita

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